It is Christmas in the city, but it isn't the giving season. A retired Gulf War pilot, a careless second-story man, a pair of angry Mexicans, and an equally shady pair of Secret Service agents are in town after a large stash of money, and no one is interested in sharing.
The detectives at the 87th are already busy for the holidays. Steve Carella and Fat Ollie Weeks catch the squeal when the lions in the city zoo get an unauthorized feeding of a young woman's body. And then there's a trash can stuffed with a book salesman carrying a P-38 Walther and a wad of big bills.
The bad bills and the dead book salesman lead to the offices of a respected publisher, Wadsworth and Dodds. This is good news for Fat Ollie, because he's working on a police novel -- one written by a real cop -- and he's sure it's going to be a bestseller.
Evan Hunter has passed the century mark in books published and, writing as Ed McBain, has started on his second half-century (this is the 51st in the series) with the 87th Precinct. One of the most recognizable and reliable brand names in the mystery field, he's the only American author to be elected a Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster and to win Britain's Diamond Dagger award. Yet like Steve Carella, who has reached only the age of 40 despite his 45 years as an adult character, McBain's writing remains young, vigorous, sharp and entertaining. Christmas season in Isola is no holiday for the cops of the 87th, and a dizzying collection of small-time crooks, terrorists, drug runners, hit men and feds collide on the territory shared by the 87th and the 88th precincts. Fittingly, it is Carella, introduced in the very first 87th Precinct novel (Cop Hater, 1956), who takes the lead in this case. He gets an unlikely assist from the 88th's Fat Ollie Weeks, who plays both (expected) comic foil and (unexpected) hero. The minor characters are sketched as vividly as a Hirschfeld drawing, and McBain's mordant humor keeps the violence somewhat balanced. In addition to the bullets, which fly rather freely, lions, bombs, cattle prods and ice picks all play a role. Adroit scene-setting, the pitch-perfect dialogue for which he is famous and streamlined presentation of a Byzantine plot make the pages turn quickly. McBain's Money is a sure bet.